The HC-X900 will be available in two versions: one with no internal memory (the HC-X900) and one with 32GB of internal memory (the HC-X900M). Pricing and availability has not been finalized, but we'll publish details as soon as we can.
Lens & Imaging System
The Panasonic HC-X900 has the same 3-CMOS sensor system that has appeared on previous flagship models from Panasonic, but the company does claim the new camcorder's chips have undergone a slight redesign. The new system gives more weight to the green channel in the RGB signal, which enables the camcorder to capture more detail and should improve low light performance. Also, the sensor tweaking gives a boost with 3D recording—made possible with the optional VW-CLT2 lens converter—as it allows the camcorder to record what Panasonic calls "Full HD 3D video".
Panasonic has used AVCHD compression on its camcorders for many years now, which is why Panasonic was in a bit of a conundrum when it launched 1080/60p recording on its consumer models. Until last year, AVCHD wasn't able to accommodate 1080/60p recording, so Panasonic had to use its own proprietary format to record Full HD progressive video.
Now there's AVCHD 2.0, also called AVCHD Progressive, which is what the HC-X900 uses to capture 60p (and 3D) video. AVCHD Progressive uses a standardized set of recording specifications for 60p and 3D recording. It's not really any different than the way Panasonic recorded 1080/60p video before, but now it is officially AVCHD Progressive.
Read more about the advantages and disadvantages of different compression types.
Besides the 1080/60p mode, the HC-X900 offers four Full HD recording options using a 60i frame rate, one iFrame record mode (standard definition), and two 3D recording options (possible with the VW-CLT2 lens adapter only).
There are two versions of the HC-X900 camcorder. One comes with no internal memory (the X900) and the other comes with 32GB of internal memory (the X900M). Both models are essentially identically in all other regards, and both have a card slot that fits SD, SDHC, or SDXC memory cards.
Read more about the advantages and disadvantages of different media types.
We briefly tried out the Panasonic X900 in its intelligent auto mode while we had our hands on the camcorder at CES. We noticed quick-acting autofocus and an auto exposure that shifted gradually and accurately. Bright areas of the screen were still bright, but they weren't blown out, and the camcorder did a good job maintaining relatively even light levels throughout the frame. Like previous Panasonics, the HC-X900 has a dedicated auto mode (iA) and it can record with some controls set to auto and other set manually in the camcorder's regular manual control mode.
The HC-X900 has a 12x optical zoom lens, and that zoom can be cranked up to 23x using Panasonic's Intelligent Zoom function. We're not completely sold on Intelligent Zoom, as it does use internal processing in order to get the zoom boost, but it (theoretically) shouldn't reduce the image quality too much. Zoom is controlled in three different ways on the camcorder: via the toggle on the top of the model, via the lens ring, or via touchscreen buttons on the LCD.
We're on record as being big fans of any camcorder that includes a lens ring or solid control dial for adjusting manual controls. Panasonic is known for its lens rings, and the HC-X900 continues this trend. The large lens ring is easy to grip, offers very good control, and can be used to adjust a variety of settings—including focus.
Aperture adjustments on the X900 can be made manually either with the lens ring or with the touchscreen LCD. Panasonic calls the function iris control, and the camcorder has a wide aperture setting of f/1.5.
The manual shutter speed range on the X900 goes from 1/30 to 1/8000 of a second (or 1/24 - 1/8000 if recording with a 24p frame rate). Like aperture and focus, shutter speed can be set with the lens ring. Panasonic also includes an auto slow shutter feature on the camcorder that will kick in for low light situations in auto mode.
The X900 isn't overloaded with white balance settings, but it has an auto mode, four presets (Indoor 1, Indoor 2, Sunny, and Cloudy), and one manual option. White balance can be set with the lens ring as well, although its not as useful to use the ring for this as it is for focus, aperture, and shutter speed.
Just like last year's Panasonic camcorders, the HC-X900 isn't able to record 3D content out of the box. You need to purchase a separate lens converter, which has been revamped this year and is called the VW-CLT2, and attach it to the camcorder before you can shoot 3D. There are plenty of benefits to this system of doing things, primarily the fact that you don't have to ever purchase the lens converter if you have no desire to shoot 3D. Other 3D camcorders that have built-in 3D lens systems don't offer this luxury (the dual lens system is always there).
The new lens converter didn't undergo any internal changes compared to last year's VW-CLT1, but Panasonic did improve the locking mechanism used to attach the converter to the front of the HC-X900. You no longer need to rotate awkward dials to tighten the converter in place, now you just line up the converter and turn the locking bar on the top of the lens to keep it attached to the front of the camcorder. It's a simple alteration, but it makes for a much better design.
Because the camcorder uses a lens conversion system to shoot 3D, you do need to manually calibrate the converter when you connect it to the X900. This process is kind of annoying, takes a bit of time, and can be confusing. It's one of our biggest gripes about the 3D features on the X900, and it's something that you don't really need to do on camcorders with built-in dual lens systems for shooting 3D.
Panasonic's redesign of its sensor system enables the HC-X900 to record Full HD 3D video—something that was not possible on last year's Panasonic camcorders. To accomplish this, the camcorder captures extra pixels, essentially a 4k2k image that is double the resolution of a Full HD image, during 3D recording. This image is then split into two Full HD images, which are overlapped to create the 3D effect. Last year's HDC-TM900 essentially captured 3D video that was half this resolution, which Panasonic dubbed as "side-by-side 3D".
The process sounds complex and intriguing, so we're hoping to get the HC-X900 into our labs in order to verify that the new camcorder actually does record better 3D content than its predecessors.
The final addition made by Panasonic for the HC-X900 is to add a glasses-free 3D capability to the camcorder's LCD. We're still not convinced that these glasses-free 3D screens are any good, and our brief interlude with the X900's screen didn't really "wow" us, but we're interested by this feature nonetheless. The screen on the Panasonic offers a large display and a killer 1,152,000-pixel resolution. It's this high pixel count that makes the 3D view look better than what we've seen from some of the competition (like the JVC GS-TD1, which had a terrible 3D effect on its LCD).
Ease of Use
For shooting regular HD video, the HC-X900 isn't an incredibly challenging camcorder. Its auto controls work well and its revamped menu system is fairly easy to navigate. But when you delve into more unusual shooting styles, like 3D and 1080/60p recording, the X900 can become a bit overwhelming. These technologies are all very new, so you can expect to run into some roadblocks if you try to import 3D or 60p content to an editing program on your computer.
The large set of manual controls on the X900 can also be overwhelming for inexperienced videographers. But those with camcorder know-how are likely to enjoy the X900's large set of controls, as well as the inclusion of a sweet lens ring for making control adjustments.
There are a bunch of positives about the way the HC-X900 handles. The camcorder's large lens ring can be a pleasure to use, and we've given it praise throughout this review for a variety of reasons. We also give the camcorder kudos for its 3.5-inch LCD with a resolution in excess of one million pixels. The electronic viewfinder can come in handy, although it isn't designed well enough that we can imagine anyone using it on a regular basis.
Holding the camcorder on the show floor at CES left us with mixed feelings. The top of the model was rounded with a smooth, rounded design that felt great when we wrapped our fingers around it. The bottom edges of the X900 were a bit rigid, however, and it dug into the side of our palm a bit more than was comfortable. We also found our pinky coming dangerously close to the top-mounted microphone when we held the camcorder in our hand.
The HC-X900, for some reason or another, simply didn't feel as good in our hand as the HDC-TM900 or TM700 from previous seasons. Maybe it stems from the fact that, at 425g (without its battery), the X900 is a few grams heavier than its predecessors. Or it could be from the extra size that the X900 takes up, as the camcorder is also a bit longer, wider, and taller than last year's TM900 as well.
The HC-X900 ships with a rechargeable and removable battery pack. You can charge the pack by connecting the provided AC adapter to the camcorder while the battery is in place. According to Panasonic, the battery life varies wildly on the X900 depending on how you use the camcorder, what record modes you shoot with, and whether you shoot with the LCD or EVF. You can see a whole list of approximate battery life times on Panasonic's website here.
LCD & Viewfinder
Obviously the HC-X900 has an LCD—what camcorder doesn't these days—but the real surprise is that the camcorder also comes with an electronic viewfinder. The specs for the LCD are fantastic: it's got a big 3.5-inch display surface, uses touchscreen technology, offers a glasses-free 3D view, and it has a resolution of 1,152,000 pixels. That's about as good as it gets when it comes to LCDs on consumer camcorders.
The viewfinder is less impressive, but it's still a good feature to have on a sunny day where all the LCD shows you is glare. The EVF has a 0.24-inch viewing area and a 263,424-pixel resolution. You an also extend the EVF from the camcorder by close to a 1/4-inch, and there's a diopter adjustment dial on the viewfinder as well.
One of the easily overlooked changes made by Panasonic on the HC-X900 is the update to the camcorder's menu system. The main menu for the camcorder looks nearly identical, but before you get to that screen you see an opening screen with four individual submenus. This setup is similar to what we saw last year, but there are slight design changes (like additional icons) that make the menu page look entirely different.
Panasonic also retained its function menu that appears on the side of the LCD and its quick menu that runs across the top of the screen when the option is selected.
Audio features aren't that much fun to talk about when you have a camcorder that can do as many things as the HC-X900, but let's gloss over them quickly. The built-in mic on the camcorder can record 5.1-channel stereo audio, although its top-mounted placement isn't great for keeping it safe from wandering fingertips (our pinky rubbed up against the mic when we held the camcorder). There's also an external mic and headphone jack on the right side of the camcorder, as well as a bunch of audio controls and features in the menu system.
Panasonic scatters the X900's ports all over the body of the camcorder, so there's a lot to go over here. Don't worry, though, you can just jump to the table below to get a quick overview of the camcorder's connectivity features. For those who want more details, here they are: inside the LCD cavity you'll find three uncovered ports, the HDMI terminal, Multi-AV output, and USB.
Flipping around to the right is the DC-input, external mic jack, and headphone port. The DC-input is in its own location near the back of the camcorder, while the two audio jacks are near the front. Just above the audio jack is the camcorder's cold accessory shoe slot (that fits with a provided accessory shoe adapter).
We should also mention the 3D capability of the X900 as a "connectivity" feature. The optional VW-CLT2 lens converter attaches to the front of the camcorder via a locking mechanism. The camcorder is not compatible with the VW-CLT1 lens converter from last year, and the new lens converter is not compatible with last year's Panasonic camcorders (it only works on the new models).
Last year at CES we were disappointed by Panasonic's lack of innovation in its failure to provide a decent set of updates to its brilliant flagship camcorder from 2010, the HDC-TM700. This year, we have some similar feelings about the HC-X900, but we're going to hold back our judgement until we get the new camcorder into our labs.
Panasonic claims the new sensor design should produce better results in low light and more detail in HD video—for both 2D and 3D recording—and if that's the case, then we may very well be fully satisfied with the HC-X900 as a successor to Panasonic's coveted flagship camcorder crown.
Some of the more noticeable updates to the HC-X900 are somewhat impressive, but they aren't enough to survive on their own. The new LCD is the same size as what we saw last year, but it's been giving a huge boost in resolution (up to 1152k pixels) and a glasses-free 3D viewing capability. The camcorder also has improved OIS capabilities, a new menu system, and a larger and heavier body than last year's HDC-TM900.
We're expecting some impressive things when we pull the X900 into our labs, so hopefully the camcorder will deliver.
Meet the tester
Managing Editor, Video@nematode9
Jeremy is the video expert of our imaging team and Reviewed.com's head of video production. Originally from Pennsylvania and upstate NY, he graduated from Bard college with a degree in film and electronic media. He has been living and working in New England since 2005.
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